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Soon: Four White House, State Department Aides to Testify; Damning Testimony From Diplomat Who Overheard Trump-Sondland Call. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 19, 2019 - 05:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The next round of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry hours away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jennifer Williams.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tim Morrison will testify today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This testimony from over a dozen witnesses makes it clear that the president was using a meeting at the White House and taxpayer dollars in order to try to get a foreign government to benefit himself politically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vindman himself has so many problems, whether you come dressed with medals or not.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is truly a mindboggling corruption of U.S. foreign policy. This is well beyond anything that Richard Nixon and other U.S. president ever possibly did.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of NEW DAY and CNN's coverage of the public impeachment hearings.

It is Tuesday, November 19th, 5:00 here in New York.

Four important witnesses will take the stand today in what could change the legacy of President Trump's presidency. Up first, two top national security aides who listened in on the president's July 25th phone call with Ukraine's president and were alarmed by what they heard. Both witnesses have been attack by President Trump and his allies and Republicans are expected to mount a particularly aggressive line of questioning with Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman today.

And this afternoon, former NSC official Tim Morrison and former special to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, will take the stand. We'll explain their significance in a moment.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This all comes after Congress released brand-new transcripts of closed door testimony from two other key witnesses one of whom David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, he is the one who overheard President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigation into the Bidens during a cell phone call in a restaurant in Kiev. He told lawmakers he never saw anything like it. A source tells CNN that several Republicans were shaken by Holmes testimony.

All this as CNN has learned the president is considering dismissing some of the aides who have testified against him.

I want to begin our coverage with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill.

Four witnesses coming today in what could be the most contentious day we've seen yet, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, it's quiet right now, but the energy you can kind of feel it in the room as the media is setting up for this marathon day. In just four hours, you're absolutely right, you're going to see from four witnesses testifying and all of this coming as late last night, there were transcripts that were released of previous testimony.

It was damning testimony poking major holes into Trump and his ally's arguments.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Four key witnesses will take the stand today starting with Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams who both listened in on the July 25th phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president.

Vindman testified last month that he raised concerns to the top National Security Council lawyer within hours of the call.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): As a former Air Force pilot, Air Force officer, I know that because you're in the military doesn't mean you're beyond reproach or question. You have to be held accountable and responsible for the comments you made and we think we'll be able to do that.

MALVEAUX: Williams, a State Department employee, detailed to Vice President Mike Pence's office told impeachment investigators Trump's request for specific investigations struck her as unusual and inappropriate.

Former special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, will testify this afternoon, with Tim Morrison, the former top Russian adviser on the National Security Council. Kurt Volker told investigators he was unaware of the quid pro quo but he said he was troubled by the rough transcript of the call.

Morrison who was on the July 25th call has said ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, said the military aid was conditioned on publicly opening certain investigations.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): This is shocking behavior of the president. These witnesses have served their country both as military leaders, as leaders in the Foreign Service. They are incredible patriots.

MALVEAUX: According to new transcripts released by House investigators, David Holmes, a U.S. embassy diplomat in Ukraine, testified behind closed doors last week that he overheard a phone call between Trump and Sondland where the president asked the ambassador about whether Ukraine was going to agree to carry out the investigations he wanted. Holmes says the conversation was so loud that he could hear it.

Holmes told investigators, I've never seen anything like this. Holmes reveals that he reported the phone call to his superior at the embassy and even mentioned it briefly to friends soon after.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): I thought he was an excellent witness. Frankly, his revelation was jaw-dropping.

MALVEAUX: Holmes also testified that it was clear to him Ukrainian officials, quote, gradually came found that they were being asked to do something in exchange for the meeting and security assistance hold being lifted.

A Republican source tells CNN that several members of the GOP were privately shaken by his closed door testimony. David Hale, the highest ranking State Department employee to testify so far, saying after hearing that the aid to Ukraine was halted, Hale said he wanted clarity on who ordered the freezing. He testified it took him two days to get an answer before OMB stated on the record that it was the president through Chief of Staff Mulvaney.


MALVEAUX: First up to testify will be Vindman and Williams. They will be side-by-side at 9:00. A Democratic aid telling me the format is similar to what we saw last week because it really maximizes the momentum.


It allows the process to move as quickly as possible and let them tell a coherent and complimentary story side-by-side -- John.

BERMAN: That's right. Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill, a lot of names, a lot of faces today, but the story is what you should pay attention to and the significance of each person. Coming up, we're going give you a preview of what they are all expected to say and what we're learning about how Republicans plan to fight back.

Stay with us.



CAMEROTA: Today is a major day in the impeachment investigation. Four witnesses will take the stand including one of the Democrats' star witnesses, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman who said that he was alarmed by President Trump's request for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. This will be Vindman's first opportunity to speak publicly after being attacked by president Trump and his allies.

Joining us now, CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip, and CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon.

OK. Here's what Vindman said in his closed door. Just to remind everybody why he's significant. Here's what he said in his closed door testimony.

On the 10th of July, it became completely apparent what the deliverable would be in order to get a U.S. bidding. That deliverable was reinforced by the president. The demand was, in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation.

So, Abby, we assumed he'll say that again in public and already, and we get this in a moment, you can hear the president's allies beginning to go after Vindman.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's very important to discredit Vindman as a witness because he is an expert in Ukraine. That is what he was on staff to be focused on.

And when he saw this unfolding not only did he think it was unusual and potentially illegal he spoke up about it. He said something at the time. He went to attorneys within the normal and in his words the "chain of command". He talks about in his testimony how important normal "chain of command" is as someone who is an active duty military officer.

And so, he did what he thought he was exactly supposed to do to report this to say I thought that this was wrong and that it was detrimental to national security. And so, Republicans will have to really go after him on two fronts, both, you know, to sort of discredit the concerns that he might have raised. Also, they did this long ago trying to discredit his loyalty to the United States.

It's incredible that this is where they were going but it's important to do that because of his expertise in this area.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But, important but despicable, right? I mean, there's going to be challenging people on the content of their testimony, but you shouldn't challenge the content of their character, let alone their fundamental loyalty to America as an immigrant. This man is a decorated army veteran. He was on the call, direct firsthand knowledge.

So, a lot of last week's talking points are no longer operative as of this morning, because you do have direct knowledge. And I hope in whatever strong push back, you have, whatever questions any witness deserves to get they don't stray back into that questioning his loyalty to our country territory, because that was despicable.

BERMAN: Let's talk more about what Vindman and Williams will testify to first before we delve in how Republicans are battling back, because remember, this is about testimony and providing evidence. And one of the things that Vindman and Jennifer William both do is they provide evidence of people who are listening to the phone call. They were both on the phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky and they found that call to be inappropriate.

Let me read you first, Vindman and then Williams. Vindman said, I do not think it was proper to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government support of Ukraine.

Jennifer Williams who was also on that call, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence but Mike Pence denies any relationship with her whatsoever says, I would say that it struck me as unusual and inappropriate. So, you have two people inside the government who will testify today that it stunk, that it smelled.

PHILLIP: Who are both on the call.

And despite what the president and what Mike Pence say, they were both working in this administration of their own volition. They chose to work for President Trump and were not as far as we know never Trumpers by any stretch of the imagination, otherwise I don't think they would choose to go and work in basically in the West Wing.

And so, both of these people are, have credibility as people who have worked in government before. They under how these things are supposed to work and they one that what they saw was highly, highly unusual and then everything that happened after the call becomes unusual too because the way in which this was kept hush-hush, was also part of why it raised red flags for a lot of people.

AVLON: Exactly, evidence of its impropriety. People were concerned about the content of the call.

And, look, there's a group of people in this administration serving because they believe in continuity of American principles regardless of who the president is. The professionalism.

BERMAN: What's interesting, though, is that Republicans, including Ron Johnson, are now looking at that as a weakness and are now focused on that specific point. When you talk about the continuity of American policy and interests here, what Ron Johnson is saying that's not what you represent. You if you're working in the White House represent President Trump.

And so, Ron Johnson wrote this letter to House -- Ron Johnson is a Republican senator from Wisconsin who was at a lot of these events and involved with Ukraine policy as a Wisconsin senator.


He says: I believe a significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion on to their turf.

CAMEROTA: By the way, I want to clarify something. That's his hunch. OK? That's his hunch.

PHILLIUP: Based on no evidence.

CAMEROTA: Based on no evidence. In the letter, which is a long letter that he sends over to Republicans in the House, he doesn't provide any evidence of them trying to sabotage anything or any concrete evidence that they are, quote, never Trumpers. This is -- he's putting this out there. It's positing this as though, and it's possible, that's how Vindman feels.

AVLON: Look, this is situational ethics, right? This is nothing that Ron Johnson would ever write or say if a Democrat were in the White House. That shows the degree of desperation recognizes are being pushed into. No evidence to support it.

And you want continuity of American national interest regardless of administration. As a former senator from neighboring state, Wisconsin, partisanship ought to end at the water's edge. That's an outdated concept but it shouldn't be.

PHILLIP: Johnson is also on the defense, because he's caught up in the middle of this. He was the first person to raise the prospect of a quid pro quo and now, and when that came out, he had to really pivot to defend President Trump and I think that's part of what you're seeing here as he turns to attack some of these potential witnesses.

CAMEROTA: That's good context. Thank you very much, Abby, John.

All right. Damning testimony from two more witnesses contradicting President Trump's claim that Ukraine never knew about this quid pro quo. So, we have details from those transcripts that are just released, next.



BERMAN: So, welcome back. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings.

As we await for four witnesses today, breaking overnight, House investigators released new transcript from two witnesses who testified behind closed doors. A senior diplomat in Ukraine, David Holmes, told lawmakers that Ukrainian officials gradually came to understand that they were being asked to open an investigation into the Bidens in exchange for military aid. Back with us now, Abby Philip and John Avlon.

We're talking about David Holmes, and David Holmes was a political officer in the embassy in Ukraine. He was the guy at the restaurant who overheard the cell phone call where Gordon Sondland picked up the phone and called President Trump.

And David Holmes testified, quote, I never seen anything like this. Someone calling the president from a mobile phone in a restaurant and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language.

What kind of colorful language, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: He said something to the idea of Zelensky --

BERMAN: You know what it is.

AVLON: Just say it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, here we go, here we go. I got it. Zelensky loves your back side.

AVLON: Oh, he didn't say that.


BERMAN: Holmes said there's so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.

And, Abby, the important thing here is not only that he testified the existence of this conversation, he testified that it's wrong, but we understand from our reporting that Republicans are nervous about David Holmes. That David Holmes rattled them behind closed doors and now he's talking on Thursday.

PHILLIP: And he's had apparently a fair amount of interaction with Gordon Sondland, where Sondland was comfortable enough to have this kind of a conversation with the president with other people present. And I think that's going to be really eye-opening.

He also in his testimony talked about now one of the reasons he was so shocked by this conversation is because he says the phone companies in Ukraine are owned by the Russians. They are presumed to be monitored at all times. So, it was so shocking for him to overhear this conversation, he was taking notes on his iPhone at the time. He went back to the office and was telling everyone he could fine basically about this unusual conversation.

So, he has a lot of firsthand -- this is firsthand. The president was talking so loudly on the phone that he could hear the president's side of the conversation from that dining table that they were at in public.

So, this is a very difference situation for them. Again, another expert, subject matter expert and also another career foreign service officer who is there serving regardless of the president and who witnessed something that he thought was so extraordinary and unusual that he wrote it down and told other people about it.

CAMEROTA: There's a Keystone cops quality to this but it's not funny since our national security experts said this is how you compromise the United States by knowing exactly what their plan is when the president talks to the ambassador about what the deal is, what the plan is and that everybody is all ears for that.

AVLON: Unsecure cell phone calls with Russians listening. They could hear it from across the room it sounds like, not just tapping into a phone line.

I want knocks out a couple of key arguments Republicans are making to date, right? One is, this is all hearsay, no direct knowledge. You have direct knowledge.

The president is on the call. So, the president has direct knowledge. Sondland characterizes the conversation for him, saying that, you know, he doesn't really care about Ukraine.


He wants the investigation done.

And then I think -- an important point of cynicism which Republicans have pushed, this idea that secretly behind-the-scenes, all presidents do this. This is how great power politics is done. Every testimony, but particularly this one says no, in my career in the Foreign Service, I've never heard anything like this call. This is inappropriate, it's out of the norms and it departs from national interest because it's just about self interest.

BERMAN: You know who else says this is not the kind of thing done, is the guy who was President Trump's first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

AVLON: Right.

BERMAN: Who was speaking yesterday with PBS Judy Woodruff. And let's just play what Rex Tillerson says so you can hear it.


REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Clearly asking for personal favors and using United States assets as collateral is wrong. There's just no two ways about it. So if you're seeking some kind of personal gain and you're using whether it's American foreign aid or American weapons or American influence, that's wrong. And I think everyone understands that.


BERMAN: Everyone?


AVLON: Everyone in private does. PHILLIP: And he is actually a businessman.


CAMEROTA: Yes, not a career politician.

PHILLIP: Not a career politician.

CAMEROTA: And he knows that that's wrong.

PHILLIP: He is a businessman.

I mean, you know, Gordon Sondland described President Trump's view of this as I'm a businessman, if I want something from Ukraine, they are going to have to give me something in return. Here's a businessman who also happened to be the top diplomat for this president saying that's wrong.

Everybody knows it. Everybody knows that's not how you conduct foreign policy. So Republicans are going to argue the opposite. I mean, it's -- who is going to make that case that's an appropriate use of the power of the United States government.

BERMAN: I can name names. Jim Jordan.

PHILLIP: OK, we -- yes.

BERMAN: -- Devin Nunes, Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo has basically done as much. I mean, they are making that case. It's just notable that people like Rex Tillerson and others who've been in it say there's no ambiguity here.


CAMEROTA: Guys, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up, a breakdown of how today's hearings will play out. The nuts and bolts of what you will see and the arguments that will be made.

Stay with us.